Billboards (This Week’s Movies)

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Frances McDormand: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (courtesy Fox Searchlight)

Links to my reviews published in the Herald and Seattle Weekly.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. “This film is playing a delicate game, offering observations about human nature while it undercuts our expectations about how we watch movies.” (Herald link here.)

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Movie Diary 11/15/2017

The Wedding (Andrzej Wajda, 1973). So I am at the Camerimage film festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and amid the new movies and seminars, they showed this vintage Wajda film with cinematographer Witold Sobocinski in attendance. The film is a crazed fantasia on Polish history and identity, crammed into a single wedding night, and thus it has references that went over my head. But it’s gorgeously restored, and a colorful window onto both early-70s Polish cinema and the folk tradition of countryside rituals and ghosts. Sobocinski was a poetic commentator, confessing that he has “a jazzman’s soul,” and speaking to the arrangement of color in the way you hope cinematographers would. Also, the film has Maja Komorowska (later of Zanussi’s Ways of the Night and Year of the Quiet Sun) as a free spirit whom Sobocinski tried to visually turn into a butterfly, as he put it.

Movie Diary 11/14/2017

In the Fade (Fatih Akin, 2017). A committed central performance from Diane Kruger anchors this melodrama from the Head-On director. Although mostly straightforward and touching on social issues like the rise of neo-Nazism, the film taps into an interesting undercurrent of the 2017 world: how things don’t go the way you assume they surely will, or a disbelief akin to realizing that your fellow citizens have elected an unabashed asshole as president. Somehow it’s in there, without overtly being in there.

Movie Diary 11/13/2017

I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie, 2017). The Tonya Harding story (with only the ghostly presence of Nancy Kerrigan), served up in that now-familiar American Hustle Does GoodFellas style. Getting a little too familiar with that mode, actually, as nobody involved with this film seems to have gleaned that there is tragedy lurking beneath the trashy glitter of Harding’s life. Anyway, Margot Robbie is good, and the CGI ice-skating is technically impressive, if a little uncanny-valley eerie.

Wyklety (aka The Damned One, Konrad Lecki, 2017), and Amok (Katarzyna Adamik, 2017). I’m in Bydgoszcz, Poland, for a film festival, and so it seemed like a good idea to see a couple of Polish films. As the festival, Camerimage, is devoted to cinematography, it makes sense that both films are eye-filling examples of the art of cinematography, even if neither is really a great film. The former looks at resistance fighters who opposed the Soviet takeover of Poland after World War II; the latter tracks a real-life case of an author who became a suspect in a murder he’d written a book about.

Square Murder (This Week’s Movies)

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Kenneth Branagh: Murder on the Orient Express

Links to my reviews published this week in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Murder on the Orient Express. “As director, Branagh mostly stays out of Agatha Christie’s way and lets the material do its surefire thing, except for a couple of ill-advised sequences of people running and jumping.” (Herald review here.)

The Square. “For me the excitement waned as the film got into the last stages of its 142-minute run time, but until then it fulfills the requirements of an arthouse roller-coaster ride.” (Herald review here.)

If you read magazines that are made of paper (because not everything is online), you might find a copy of the Nov./Dec. Film Comment, where I’ve got a piece on a handful of John Frankenheimer-directed episodes of Playhouse 90 from the 1950s. The videos, which were burned for Scarecrow by Frankenheimer himself, are available for rent at Scarecrow Video.

Movie Diary 11/8/2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017). A crueler film than The Lobster, this one has a Twilight Zone scenario that can’t really be explained without giving the premise away. It has strong work by Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, a classic creepy teen from Barry Keoghan, and a very fine single-scene performance by Alicia Silverstone. Overall: Yipes.

The Glory Guys (Arnold Laven, 1965). I had never seen this Sam Peckinpah-scripted cavalry Western, which mixes up a fictionalized Custer story (Andrew Duggan in the role) with a romantic triangle. The rivalry-friendship between cavalryman Tom Tryon and scout Harve Presnell, who both love Senta Berger, has the stuff of other Peckinpah male relationships, but on the other hand they’re played by Tom Tryon and Harve Presnell, so, you know. Some evocative shots by James Wong Howe, and a few beautiful, shivery lines of dialogue (including Slim Pickens looking out at the scene of the massacre: “That’s one way to get your name in the papers”). James Caan does an Irish accent in it.

War Arrow (George Sherman, 1953). Generic Universal color Western, with Jeff Chandler recruiting displaced Seminole to help fight against the warlike Kiowa. Maureen O’Hara is the war widow he falls for, to the frustration of spurned suitor John McIntire. A few interesting wrinkles amid the standard-issue trappings, including clever flirtation scenes written by John Michael Hayes (a year before he wrote Rear Window) and a restless Native girl played by the ill-fated Suzan Ball. Dennis Weaver plays a hothead Indian brave.

Movie Diary 11/7/2017

Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo, 2015). Missed this when it was new – it’s a typical narrative game from Hong, and I think one of his best. A film director tries to pick up a young painter, a situation we witness twice through; the first time the director is dishonest, the second time not. Hong shows his affinity to Eric Rohmer in a few different ways, including the way the director is in town for a film festival and was accidentally brought out a day early, leaving him at loose ends and available to be distracted.